Cloud-Based Nonprofit Management – Is My Data Safe?

Philip Manzano • Oct 31, 2016

Get answers to your cloud-based data management questions so you can make the best decision for your nonprofit.

You’ve probably noticed the influx of SaaS (Software as a Service) technology for nonprofit organizations. Some have been available for a while, while others are fresh on the market. I’m talking about programs like Raiser’s Edge, DonorPerfect, Salesforce, and even Keela.

These programs often use a cloud-based system to centrally store your data, allowing information to be accessible to teams no matter where they are. As long as you have access to the internet, you have access to your work. Put simply, cloud computing is a network of servers working to deliver a specific function, like storing your contact data, or managing your projects. 

There are a variety of benefits that come from relying on a cloud-based system. With these systems, our teams can be more interconnected than ever before. Even better, these tools come at a lower price than almost all local storage options. However, with cloud-based systems also comes apprehension and a fear of data safety. At some point, we’ve all wondered: Is my work really safe up there in some ‘cloud’? 

Whether your organization already uses cloud-based SaaS technology or you find yourself considering using a cloud for the first time, there are a lot of questions that keep coming up about the security of your data on this so-called “cloud”.

Let’s start with the basics:


Cloud-based software providers are no doubt taking all necessary protocols to ensure the protection of your data. No legitimate company would survive without meeting necessary requirements for data security. SaaS providers keep your data safe through encryption. I know, I know…another new buzzword. So, what’s encryption? Encryption is the use of complex algorithms to protect your information. Let’s just say that decrypting your information, while not impossible, would be an extremely difficult feat and it probably shouldn’t be at the top of your worry list. In fact, you’re likely already a recipient of the benefits that come along with encryption through your online banking service. In reality, the probability of data loss on an externally hosted cloud is negligible.


Chances are that you will not face a problem with a professional cloud service provider in terms of data loss or hacking. The biggest threat to the cloud may be a disgruntled employee with access to your database. Your organization can safeguard this potential threat by establishing clear protocols for data sharing, and assigning employees different levels of authority on your cloud server based on their position at the company. For example, refrain from giving interns and part-time volunteers administrative permission privileges. Limit their access to information online to reflect their position offline. Essentially, give people access to the data they need to see. SaaS companies are smart–they put you in the driver’s seat for data sharing within your organization. 

Another hot tip regarding passwords: Password security is extremely important. This is a lesson we’ve learned from the highly publicized Apple iCloud breach. Something as simple as having your employees regularly update passwords can be a huge step towards protecting your data. So long as you choose a reliable software provider or have an experienced IT department, you’re all set.


Sometimes things go wrong. And those times are much more highly publicized than when things are going great. You may recall a case of a Salesforce client hacking from 2007. It should be noted that the hacker went after a specific client, not the actual SaaS company. It is also important to keep in mind the vast landscape of the SaaS market and the infrequency of such cases. 

Other than data hacking, when we talk about something going wrong, we could be referring to:

  • Temporary loss of access to your data;
  • Disgruntled co-worker leaks or harms organizational data or
  • Murphy’s law strikes and everything that could go wrong does.

If you don’t have internet access, there is a chance you could be without your data (with the absence of an offline option). Not to fret–as soon as you can access the internet again, everything should remain just as you left it. While this is definitely a downside of cloud computing, the upside is that as long as there is access to the internet, anyone from your team can access and update data at any time, from anywhere. Unless you live in a place with extremely spotty internet, chances are the benefits outweigh the risks.

If you’re dealing with a potentially rogue employee, there are usually settings within SaaS technology that allows administrators to limit access and delete users from your account. Of course, you need to be timely in limiting this person’s access to your data in order to minimize damage. We hope that strong hiring practices can help to ensure you don’t face such issues!

Now, for the dreaded third possibility. What if a natural disaster occurs and all SaaS cloud servers are destroyed? Well, you can prepare for this, too! If you’re still worried about all the unknown, or all of your ducks lined up in the most inconvenient manner, your organization can take the simple yet effective tactic of scheduling routine data back-ups. Export your pertinent information as often as you feel comfortable, and save it somewhere you can trust. Save your most important data in more than one place. Our team always suggests keeping offline copies of donor addresses, contact information, and so on, on external hard drives if possible. In case of a highly unlikely server-destroying scenario, at least your data will be kept largely intact! 

Breathe Easy

In some form or another, 93% of businesses are already using cloud storage. But some are still trying to figure out how this all works, and how safe their data really is. 

Here are a few tips to make sure you’re making sound decisions as you evaluate cloud computing options for your nonprofit: 

  • Research to make sure you are comfortable with the level of security your software provides.
  • Ask the hard questions – like these 10 questions to ask when choosing a cloud provider.
  • Read feedback – if something went wrong for another customer, chances are you can find it on a forum or online review bank.

No matter what, never sign up for a platform that you’re not comfortable with. You have the right to know exactly what is happening with your data, and any good SaaS provider should be transparent about what tools they’re using to ensure your data is kept safe and confidential. Educate your team and confidently make decisions as you explore the vast market of cloud-based software options available for your nonprofit.

This blog was also featured on TechSoup Canada

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